By Andrew Kahn
Last week’s column mentioned how little separated the two leagues in all-time All Star Game results. With the American League’s 2-1 victory on Tuesday night, each side has won 43 games and scored 361 runs. As Mel Allen says with a laugh in Naked Gun, “How about that?” With the All Star events behind us—metaphorically, at least—a few of Aaron Judge’s Derby homers may still be traveling farther ahead of us. It means the second “half” of the season is about to get underway.
Below are four questions that the remaining 45 percent of the regular season will answer. Why four? Counting home plate, there are four bases on a baseball diamond. There are four umpires on the field. And it is the primary uniform number worn by Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Paul Molitor and Wilmer Flores. ’Nuff said.
Can the Cubs turn it around?
The Cubs will resume play Friday with a 43-45 record, 10 games worse than they were at the break last season. Elias says it is the worst first half record of any defending champ that won at least 100 games (Chicago won 103). As was mentioned here a month ago, it’s possible the Cubs weren’t as great as last season would indicate. Since that story published, the Cubbies sent Kyle Schwarber to the minors for two weeks and cut Miguel Montero. On the pitching side, Kyle Hendricks should return from the DL very soon but John Lackey recently joined him and will likely miss several weeks.
If the All Star Game is any indication—and, for the record, it almost certainly isn’t—the Cubs are still reeling. National League manager Joe Maddon didn’t have his best performance, even considering it was an exhibition game, and the lone player representative, Wade Davis, lost the game by allowing an extra-inning homer.
Without a Cubs resurgence (they are 5.5 back of the Central-leading Brewers), there may not be a tight race in the entire National League. The Nationals and Dodgers hold big leads in the East and West, respectively, and there’s a 7.5-game gap between the Rockies and the next closest team (the Cubs) for the second wild card spot.
Can Mike Trout make a run at MVP?
Hear me out now. Just because the Angel in the outfield has been on the disabled list since late May and has missed 39 games total doesn’t mean he’s ineligible for the award. If he plays in every remaining game—his broken thumb is healed and he’s expected to play Friday—he’ll get to 117 for the season. That’s the same number of games George Brett played in 1980, when he won the American League MVP. That is the fewest number of games played for an MVP (in a 162-game season). Brett hit .390 that year with 24 home runs and just 22 strikeouts. Trout’s .337 batting average and .454 on-base percentage are great, but he’ll have to post a monster second half to make up for his inaction and surpass Judge, the current front-runner.
Who will get traded?
To answer this bluntly, many players. All Stars Pat Neshek, Brad Hand, Yonder Alonso, and Zack Cozart, free agents after this season, could be dealt. Any decent reliever on a non-contending team should be considered a candidate. What will be interesting to monitor before the July 31 trade deadline is how many teams are buyers. As mentioned previously, the National League’s contenders have separated themselves. There are no teams within five games of their division leader nor within five games of the Diamondbacks or Rockies for a wild card spot. The American League is a much different market. The East and Central each have two teams within 3.5 games of first, and there are seven teams within five games of the second wild card spot. Heck, the entire league is within 7.5 games of the wild card. We should expect more clarity in the next two-plus weeks, but it stands to reason a large percentage of the deals will involve players moving from the NL to the AL.
Which franchises will end droughts?
The Rockies and Twins (2.5 back in the AL Central) have gone the past seven and six years, respectively, without making the playoffs. Only four teams currently have longer postseason droughts. The first-place Indians, who last won the World Series in 1948, hold the longest active championship drought. The team with the best record in baseball, the Astros (who have existed for 55 years), and the Brewers (48 years) have never won. Neither have the Nationals, a franchise that, like the Brewers, dates back to 1969 (when they were the Montreal Expos). Washington has been good since Bryce Harper’s arrival in 2012 but the five-time All Star has never won a playoff series. In fact, the franchise has only won one postseason series in its history (in 1981). Even with some of their injuries, could this be the year they break through? Sorry, folks, that’s one question too many.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn